Monthly Archives: March 2016

Restoring the Fortunes

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Grace_wordleAs I continue, slowly, to work my way through the prophetic book of Jeremiah, I’ve come to a section of prophecies against Israel’s neighbors: Egypt, Philistia, Moab, and many others. It doesn’t make for nice, cheery reading! Words like woe, disaster, and desolation pepper the text. Shame, slaughter, calamity. Clearly, Yahweh—the personal, jealous, almighty God of Israel—is not happy with these nations that have waged centuries of war against his chosen people.

But then something else caught my eye: a familiar phrase that I’ve often read in reference to Israel’s own misfortune; a promise God has made to his people in the midst of their distress:

I will restore the fortunes….

What grabbed me this time, though, was the object of that promise: Moab, one of Israel’s perennial antagonists. Tucked in at the very end of a lengthy series of judgments against Moab is this promise to restore the very one against whom the judgments are made!

Wow! That’s grace. And it reveals God’s heart. The “chosenness” of Israel has troubled many people throughout history. Why Israel? Why is this tiny nation so special? Why—over some 8,000 years—has this people been so resilient? The “chosenness” of Israel drives politics even today, such that some believe any nation at enmity with Israel will bear the curse of God.

But these words—I will restore the fortunes—reveal God’s true heart, his true purpose in choosing Israel: “in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Genesis 12:3).

God’s purpose in choosing Israel was so that everyone on earth—all nations, all peoples, all people—might ultimately receive God’s blessing.

Throughout the Hebrew Scriptures (what we Christians call the “Old Testament”), God judges those nations that fight against Israel because he wants Israel to bless those nations. And he judges Israel when she walks away from him because all peoples cannot be blessed through an adulterous Israel.

God promises to restore the fortunes of Israel because he wants to bless her. And he promises to restore the fortunes of Moab—and Elam, and other nations—because he wants to bless them.

God’s heart, his great desire, is to bless all nations, and to welcome people “from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages” into his kingdom (Revelation 7:9). That’s grace.

Holy Week – New Heart

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heart_surgery_survivor_pillow-rfc09da882bbd4c4d89fe2273db022970_i5fqz_8byvr_324Through the wonders of modern medicine, I have seen men transformed under the hands of a skilled surgeon repairing aged or damaged hearts. One friend spent only three days in the hospital following open-heart surgery and now—six years later—continues to work strong and hard. A man who only weeks ago could barely walk up a flight of steps without a rest break now looks forward to the possibility of downhill skiing again.

Men and women whose spiritual hearts bear the telltale signs of aging are made young again. Arteries clogged by sin—or by a steady diet of sins—are cleared by the cross of Christ. Hearts damaged by the sins of others are made new by His resurrection.

But the skill of a doctor is not only in her ability to treat a disease, to sew in a new valve to replace an old; it is also about exploring the body, identifying whether it is a valve that needs to be repaired or an artery—or both. We need spiritual doctors in our lives, too: men and women who can look beyond the obvious to find the hidden.

During this Holy Week, many people who rarely step into a church will venture in. They go, not as patients to a hospital, but as visitors—yet with no one to visit. The reality is, though, that they—like each one there—are patients. Each of us is ill, carrying in our bodies the cancer of sin.

This Holy Week, would you ask the Great Physician to diagnose your disease, recommend treatment, and bring healing?

 

Holy Week – Expectations

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Colorado Late WinterAs I write, I am sitting in a hospital in Colorado Springs, waiting while my dad is prepped for surgery to replace a valve in his heart. We are two days into spring and in the middle of Holy Week.

All of this—the hospital, the surgery, the season, the church calendar—points to one thing: expectations.

Outside the windows I can seek majestic Pikes Peak, peppered with late snow. Between me and the mountain are brown grasses and the bare branches of trees that haven’t quite begun to show the green buds of spring…but they will soon, in spite of tomorrow’s forecast snow.

Down the hall, my father is getting ready for a procedure that will give him new life; he is even anticipating the very real possibility of getting back on the ski slopes that he said goodbye to a year ago.

Jesus, at this point of Holy Week, is still being hailed as a conquering hero. His followers then—and we today—are still anticipating great things from God.

Hospitals and Holy Week, surgeries and Spring. All offer hope. And yet all also bring uncertainty. People die in hospitals. Surgeries fail. Spring (especially in Colorado) can quickly be hidden by late snows. And Holy Week reaches an apparent climax at a cross-topped hill.

But the hope and the uncertainty are held in tension by something stronger than both: faith in a good and sovereign God.

This Holy Week—this Spring—will you look forward in faith?

Holy Week

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Holy Table SettingHoly Week—what is it? We tend to focus more on the second word, week, than the first; for many, a legitimate synonym to Holy Week is Spring Break, with all the connotations that phrase carries. But what is Holy Week? And why is it holy?

Holy isn’t just about righteous living, and it certainly isn’t just about religious living. Holy means “set apart for sacred purposes.” It is a distinction between the common and the sacred, the ordinary and the God-focused. Perhaps the best picture is the difference between the dishes and silverware we use every day and that special set we bring out only at holidays or for special guests: the wedding china and the silverware.

Holy Week is so much more than spring break, so much more than just a week off school. It is a week set apart for the sacred purpose of drawing near to God; of setting the table of our heart with the good china and inviting Christ to dine with us each day.

“Behold, I—Christ—stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and will dine with him, and he with me.” (Revelation 3:20)

Will you make today holy? Will you set apart this day, this week, for Jesus Christ? Will you set your table for Him?

What Is God Forming In You?

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The Hebrew Scriptures (aka the “Old Testament”) include the story of a man named Jōb. In a matter of moments on one fateful day, he lost everything he had: flocks and herds, servants, sons and daughters. Lest someone offer the hopeless condolence, “well, at least you have your health,” that was taken from him, too, as painful, oozing sores broke out over his entire body. Even Jōb’s wife (who, let’s remember, had also lost all) considered death better than living with the loss.

Today we use Jōb as an example of patience and perseverance through suffering, the epitome of faith in the face of injustice. Ask the man in the midst, though, and you may get a different story.

Sure, Jōb may have been unwilling to “curse God and die,” but other curses weren’t far from his lips. He complained about the injustice. He cried out to face his accuser, knowing full well that none can win an argument with God. For unnumbered hours—days, perhaps—Jōb argues with his friends. He protests his innocence.

In a hundred ways, Job asks the single, simple question we all ask: “Why?”

But perhaps there is a different question. A better question. A question, perhaps, whose answer may even be more palatable than “why?”. (I’ve often wondered how Job would have responded had he known how his suffering came about.)

What is God forming in you?

It’s not an easy question to answer in the midst of the struggles; perhaps as difficult as the why question. But it is a question of anticipation, not despair; it looks forward, not back. It offers hope: the hope of transformation, of a butterfly’s metamorphosis.

The new green growth of spring follows the grey dormancy of winter—a grey, dismal season during which old leaves die and decompose, providing nutrients for the iris and tulips and lilies soon to come.

The miracle of healing shows God’s love and power—but healing can only happen when our bodies have first been ravaged by disease.

And the ultimate healing—resurrection—can only follow the most harrowing, hopeless winter of all: we can only be raised to new life after we have died. And in the resurrection we find ourselves seeing with new eyes, running with new legs, flying with new wings, loving with a new heart…trusting with new faith.

What is God forming in you this winter?